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Patrick Preston

LIVE: James Chance and Die Contortions @ Soup Kitchen, Manchester

WORDS BY: PATRICK PRESTON

It’s quite the ‘chance’ encounter – best to get that out of the way early – to have the no wave legend and jazz-punk curmudgeon on these shores, let alone in the stark basement of the Northern Quarter’s Soup Kitchen. Many of tonight’s gig-goers, themselves possibly survivors from the scene’s experimental ‘80s heyday, seem aware of the bill’s implausibility, as well as highly discerning – so particular is Chance and his Contortions’ smoky jazz-bar vibe that it calls for a support act that’s similarly fully-realised, which on this occasion is found in Glaswegian six-piece KAPUTT. Featuring sharp saxophone and two intertwining percussionists, it’s an intriguing set-up, which suddenly jerks into life with blocky beats and a tangle of summery guitars.

A wiry, besuited front man holds the crowd’s sway with nonsensical barking, propping up demented instrumentals with a vintage swagger; his coarse, repeated vocal stabs play off the anxious-sounding melodies, and pleasurably interlock with the skittery dual percussion. Pleasingly, the song Highlight lives up to its name, leaving tonight’s most gratifying impression with its wobbly bass line, jumpy cowbell and frantically-traded vocal parts (“Highlight”/”HIGHLIGHT!”). Long before the group’s set ends, the audience act as visibly enraptured as their wildly hopping saxophonist, finding a shared joyousness in the bouncy, yet deeply cerebral grooves.

Soon enough, the crowd’s eagerness becomes palpable, with masses huddling to the front of the stage to catch a glimpse of Chance’s diminutive, scowling figure. Suddenly, the world-weary Contortions are finger-snapped into a rigid post-punk beat, which supports Chance’s own strangled lounge-singer yelps, and instantly showcases the group’s skilfully layered percussion, elastic-sounding bass and a mesmerising guitar talent. Following this is the menacing, yet measured Gil Scott-Heron cover Home is Where the Hatred Is, which leads with Chance’s deftly slinking saxophone, and builds over a strutting bass foundation; at his signal, the shrill instrumentation slowly fades to just a passage of muted percussion, heightening the existing tension and forcing the crowd’s focus onto his eerie, confrontational lyrics, before slicing through the atmosphere with razor-like sax parts. The set then swerves into dissonant organ jamming – a genuine vintage Hammond, as I’m reliably informed by my companion – before settling at the darkened crawl of the provocatively-named Sax Maniac, whose relatively thin structure carefully reinforces its unsettling nature.

Chance masterfully controls his band’s flow throughout wildly expansive and more restrained sections, sometimes multiple times in the same song, yanking it back with a snarling ‘c’mon fellas.’ It’s at the point of lovelorn ballad The Days of Wine and Roses – which plays off the guitarist’s busy, effortless chords with the mournful leading sax – that my friend most feels like he’s walked into an episode of Twin Peaks, and with good reason; the song’s vintage instrumentation and tender crooning truly encapsulates the mood of an intangible bygone era, and its dedication to Chance’s wife Judy, who ‘sadly couldn’t be here tonight’, only adds to its emotive charm. Further pushing this energy is a smouldering Sinatra cover of That’s Life, which abandons all of its original triumphant melody for a disaffected and dissonant post-punk interpretation.

A broken guitar string threatens to halt the night’s simmering tension, but stands no chance against Chance’s signature track (and most well-known ‘hit’) Contort Yourself, which harks back to his explosive no wave bandleader days – its paranoid, jerky grooves elicit the greatest amount of recognition and movement from the audience, who exude a relief that the night ends with a bang, rather than a whimper.

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149

LIVE: SNAPPED ANKLES @ THE DEAF INSTITUTE

WORDS: PATRICK PRESTON 

Not even some minor guest list issues could break my resolve to see one of the country’s most interesting new psych/punk/whatever else bands, who tonight kick off their first proper country-wide tour in Manchester’s historic Deaf Institute. The large upstairs gig room – the fullest I’ve ever seen it – throbs with feverish anticipation, with a smattering of arty students and balding musos visibly excited to witness some new blood on the scene.

The hip-hop pulsing over the PA grips a woman stood near me so intensely that she carves out her own personal zone of non-stop animated dancing, leaving me wondering if she’ll have enough energy by the time the band are on; this turns out to be a taller order than expected, as twenty minutes pass beyond their listed set time (partly due to their recording of a BBC Radio 6 live session just beforehand). It’s no matter though, as, from the sheer complexity of the kitted-out stage setup, it’s clear that this crowd can appreciate the meticulous tinkering and technicality that goes into such performances.

 

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They came from the woods! @snappedankles being completely weird & wonderful.

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Almost instantaneously, a swathe of creepy business suit-clad figures with shaggy, monster-like headgear appear onstage and summon an eerie green light. The audience buzzes with a cheer, unsure of what to make of them, but a quiet yet hurried drumbeat steers them ever forwards, while snatches of warped synth noise fly threateningly overhead and fractured yelps grow in intensity. All of this builds to the explosive krautrock fury of new album highlight Tailpipe, which juggles frantically-thick bass sounds with whizzing stabs of synth; the blocky, stop-start space punk of Drink and Glide and clattering jerkiness of Pestisound (Moving Out) maintain this maniacal energy, evolving in complexity and adding accoutrements to their skeletal frames.

Mononymous (like the entire band) vocalist Austin’s authoritative, doom-laden proclamations throttle the crowd’s attention between tracks, amid scattered percussion and busy instrumental quirks. The garbled electronics of Letter from Hampi Mountain live up to its name with winding, exploratory noise over an addictively fun beat, but only prove how insurmountably hard it is to replicate the extensively detailed album recordings.

Indeed, some essential flourishes seem to be lost in the murky haze, drowned out by the thumping low-end percussion mixing; this doesn’t limit any joy to be found in previous album hits I Want My Minutes Back and Hanging with the Moon, however, which embody a slightly less polished, but more anthemic form of the group’s jittery musicianship.

Despite bringing it back around with new record Stunning Luxury’s lead single Rechargeable, which cranks up its tempo in impassioned bursts, the band do let slip the odd moment of mumbling lifelessness – no doubt attributable to pesky first-show-of-first-proper-tour nerves. After another slew of numbers skirting grungy psychedelia and unpredictable experimentalism – replete with a devastatingly cool vintage organ sound – the group cycle through an unintelligible roll-call, but this couldn’t matter less to the audience, who bubble over into a rapturous frenzy. “We’ve worked so hard to get out of London,” Austin implores at one point, clearly appreciative of their lively Northern reception.

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LIVE: OHMNS, HAMER, Springfield Elementary & SlowHandClap @ The Eagle Inn

WORDS BY PATRICK PRESTON

Tucked amongst Salford’s rapidly rising number of new developments, the unassuming Eagle Inn opens its winding corridors tonight for a quadruple set of ragtag guitar bands, here to dole out some intense grooves and positive vibes on an unseasonably warm February evening.

Manchester’s own fledgling noise rockers SlowHandClap first tease the small gig room with hurried bass and drum rhythms and spacey guitar leads, before pushing measured, chuggy staccato through a wall of feedback and skulking around a repeated, grinding note. The fuzzed-out bass foundation and sharp guitar stabs of 2018 single Concrete Bodies support a crawling, sardonic vocal part, leaving its cryptic lyrics to echo ominously through the air long after the stage is emptied.

After not much at all of this relative quiet, Springfield Elementary shamble onto the stage, who jerk into life with a sinister, yet delicately-constructed instrumental, before strutting with confidence through some frenzied garage-punk and breaks of deft interplay. The band cut a delightfully ramshackle shape, with the strangled cry of new track Jacked Up On Jesus proving a particular set highlight – as opposed to the ill-advised funk-rock of 5-Second Rule – before closing on a high with a beefy death-rock stomp, which fills the room with a palpable, bouncing energy.

Even were I not writing up the show afterwards, I’d be hard pressed to miss tonight’s sub-headliners, HAMER, whose self-generated buzz of anticipation quickly found its way around the venue. A suitably bold and quirky stage presence acts as the perfect vessel for the band’s furiously intense, borderline-unintelligible take on garage rock, which draws from jittery cowpunk and dizzying psych freakouts. Carefree banter and some truly impassioned game faces are traded between all three members, who all seem to be vying for first place in onstage theatrics. Even during longer, more drawn-out jamming, the tempo barely lets up once – making the trio’s ability to dance between tightly-constructed passages and hypnotic noise even more daring and impressive.

 

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HAMER & OHMNS @ Eagle Inn, Salford #hamer #ohmns #eagleinn #salford #manchester #noiserock #garagepunk

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Ultimately, however, it’s Liverpudlian noisemakers OHMNS who tie together tonight’s disparate strains of punk, noise and math rock into something more streamlined and digestible. Choppy chord patterns and co-ordinated instrumental parts drag themselves forwards, while venomous vocal barbs are traded between nearly all members, leading to simple, yet blood-pumping singalongs; with the night’s uneasy heat and passionate performances, it’s all but inevitable when the band spills onto the floor and shirts come off. Even slowing to sludgy, repetitive bangers such as Paul Is Sure, does nothing to stop this momentum – quite the opposite, in fact, as a chaotic moshpit breaks out for the last few songs. It’s been a punishing night, with ears consistently ringing throughout, but worth it to catch a glimpse of such uncompromising new and noisy talent.

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LIVE: Cloud Nothings @ Band on the Wall

WORDS BY PATRICK PRESTON       PHOTOS BY PIRAN ASTON

Sitting just on the outskirts of the city centre – as well as the buzzing gig hive of the Northern Quarter – it only makes sense that Band on the Wall has found itself inching into the touring rock band arena as of late, with no better ambassadors for niche millennial punk angst than prolific Cleveland noisemakers Cloud Nothings.

The cosy bar area and relatively ornate architecture lend a sliver of prestige to tonight’s scruffy clientele, who betray an excitable buzz over cold pints and warm chatter. In the imposing main stage room, Salford-based newcomers Chew Magna lead the charge with some spiky, rough-hewn alt-rock, doling bristly power chords underneath softly pining vocal melodies. If you’re confused about the name, you aren’t the only one; lead vocalist and guitarist Simon takes a moment to mention how most listeners know them as ‘Chew Magma’, rather than the namesake of a parish of Somerset.

A few more numbers are led with masterfully slacker-esque soloing, bringing to mind the sunniest of Dinosaur Jr. cuts, but it’s the lengthy closing track that most deftly weaves together their disparate influences, with a driving krautrock bassline and skittery drum work – just a touch more honing, and the group will most definitely be ones to watch for 2019.

The crowd of denim and indoor beanies swells with fervor for Cloud Nothings, who tease some mournful, airy chords before launching into some ferocious, heart-wrenching punk rock. Bandleader Dylan Baldi’s endearing rasp is stricken with soulfulness and pain, trading tender harmonised melodies with the rest of the group and building to fevered emotional climaxes. Unmoving from a tight, intricate stage formation, the band unleash a slew of blood-pumping hits from last year’s excellent ‘Last Building Burning’, as well as some moodier and more contemplative cuts; the audience remains oddly passive, however, opting to soak in the experience, despite a number of inviting, repetitive lyrical snatches just begging for a crowd singalong.

This eventually falters into some aimless between-track noodling, which builds for just slightly too long into a pumping, yet tuneless one-note riff – a rare glimpse of the band’s rhythmic prowess over its melody. “Now time for stuff that would appear on a Greatest Hits, if we had one,” Baldi teases, before an array of songs from a steadily-growing back catalogue; culminating in a somewhat rusty performance of Stay Useless, a tightly-crafted, crunchy power-pop number, which pricks up most of the crowd’s ears.

Come to their closing track and the group successfully leave the room clamouring for more – gratefully obliging, it’s a rousing encore of the epic Wasted Days, played with a burning intensity, which rounds off tonight’s successful Manchester stop. “It feels good to do something today,” Baldi muses at one point. “We didn’t do anything today.” What more could a touring indie rock band ask for?

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81

LIVE: The Soft Moon @ The White Hotel

WORDS BY PATRICK PRESTON      PHOTO BY ANDREI MUSAT

It should have been obvious straight away – treading through the barren industrial backstreets of Salford and traversing a jumpy security Doberman, with the imposing Strangeways tower looming overhead – that this is no ordinary polished gig venue, especially with The Soft Moon headlining. A few fenced-off smokers herald an unassuming, dingy white building, and I cautiously step inside; no hand stamps or anything like that, so when ‘you’re out, you’re out’.

Then through a final tatty wooden door, and it’s pretty striking – a harsh red mist cloaks the high-ceilinged main room, with only a ramshackle corner stage, numerous blurry, black-clad figures and a caged-off sound-desk being roughly discernible. I crack a can and try to ignore the persistent ember aroma, but I’m mostly just glad I’ve found a gig venue cold enough to keep my coat on. A DJ pumps some experimental, discordant noise, but as this evolves into a long, thrumming drone, the crowd’s disaffected hum becomes an impatient chatter. Suddenly, Chicago’s HIDE violently manifest into existence, dredging up some jump-scare strobes, apocalyptic drum sounds and hellish looped screaming; vocalist Heather Gabel’s anguished vocals and tall, tattooed, utterly demonic stage presence lift the thunderously repetitive beats and thick, bubbling tones, while beatmaker Sean Sher skulks in the background, poring over an intimidating array of gear.

The impenetrable mass of sound then slows into a scratchy, nausea-inducing soundscape, rich with texture and rhythm, before being met with a last terror-pulsing house beat. Gabel carries this energy into a reverse-Exorcist spider climb up a pillar, which just about puts a capper on this bewildering spectacle; just as quickly, the noise comes to an end, flooding the room with a sudden respite. “You can turn the lights on, we’re done,” she says, cutting through the atmosphere with a charming bluntness.

We’re running half an hour late by this point, and the crowd has carved even further into the room, fidgeting nervously to a bizarre interlude tape of sparse piano, lo-fi synths and a ticking clock. The lights have faded to an eerie, calming blue, and the members of Luis Vasquez’s The Soft Moon gingerly take to the stage. Its three members instantly snap into action with a propulsive, tribal post-punk rhythm, with Vasquez layering additional parts from a carefully-placed drum pad. “What’s up, Manchester?” he delivers in a languid Californian drawl, adding a welcome slant to the evening’s chilly proceedings. Alongside repeated enquiries of who’d win in a fight between a grizzly bear and a silverback gorilla, Vasquez’s personable stage banter is both unexpected and on point – which makes sense, considering the role that naked, raw emotion plays in the project’s aesthetic package.

 

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🌘

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After picking up a guitar, the crowd grin with anticipation, and are led through a series of chronological tracks through the band’s history, starting from the earlier, more primal, robotic and (mostly) instrumental; this culminates in Burn, the opener to this year’s truly excellent record Criminal, which showcases Vasquez’s invigorated confidence for densely-layered melodies and impassioned vocals. This reaches a fever pitch, with skittery percussion matched to frantic strobe lights and distorted shrieks, and the band’s busy presence doesn’t let the energy waver – instead channelling it into something more subdued and ethereal, like a slow pulverising death marches, with searing lead guitar lines and a dreary, winding bass forming entrancingly beautiful melodies from their turbulent surroundings. Some inevitable technical trouble doesn’t throw off any momentum, blurring some more visceral tracks from the most recent album with motorik jamming and a thumping drum pad duel, with one of the more blistering cuts of Vasquez’s back catalogue, ‘Die Life’, bringing the crowd into a final jerking, whipped-up frenzy – acting as an ultimate catharsis for a night of exhilarating, fractious tension.

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LIVE: U.S. Girls @ YES

WORDS BY PATRICK PRESTON

Storming back onto Mancunian shores for the second time in seven months, Meghan Remy’s much-vaunted U.S. Girls project hits the highly-fitting Pink Room at YES alongside local buds Virginia Wing, setting an inviting tone for its sea of messy-haired onlookers through a warming night of exploratory, soulful noise-pop.

Said openers, casting menacing red-lit silhouettes, find themselves one-third absent due to food poisoning – a sense of loss suggested by an airy, mournful saxophone, before exploding into booming percussion and piercing, crystalline synths. “Make it louder!” cries vocalist Alice Merida Richards, whose abstract, almost-improvisational lyric couplets mirror the intensity of her wildly-jerking gestures. A string of hits from the group’s excellent 2018 release ‘Ecstatic Arrow’ follow, marrying blocky 80s pop jams, monotone chants, some Moroder-esque keys and rattly industrial beats into an all-consuming tour de force – some defiant chatting couples in the audience notwithstanding. The track Glorious Idea’s repeated refrain of “here is what you want!” almost serves as a cathartic push in response, foisting this densely-crafted and addictively nourishing art out into an undeserving world.

Filling out the room to a deeply satisfying degree, clamour for U.S. Girls just about reaches boiling point before whispers of smoky jazz and spoken word samples usher in some bombastic, glittering disco beats. A seven-strong group fills the stage, ranging from more appreciative sax representation to a frantically wailing dual-guitar freak-out. What firstly appears as the band’s extended free-form jamming is kept in check by tightly-wound vocal and instrument pairings, often with just one strong melody line pinning the entire thing together; this monolithic approach to song construction begs for each track to be dissected and extended into infinity, which is reflected in U.S. Girls’ own past iteration as an avant-garde noise project.

From this point, a number of delectably crafted, desert-tinged psych-pop nuggets are rolled out, one after another – from the thumping, cyclical rhythms of ‘Incidental Boogie’ to the sparse sultriness of ‘Velvet 4 Sale’, and the shamelessly chirpy disco/doo-wop hybrid of ‘M.A.H’. – Remy needn’t even utter a word between them, instead expressing herself through movements and mimes to uproarious audience cheering. She embracingly ventures into the crowd, but her small stature is quickly swallowed, only able to ensure the room of her well-being with her unwavering, beacon-like vocals. The band play on, only intensifying in nature, until the elastic bass-line of ‘Time’ locks into another groove, before wrangling everything back around into one final stomp and endearingly fizzing out. Instruments drop out one by one, leaving a skeletal frame behind, with Remy stood beaming from the stage – hopefully ensuring that this return visit has been entirely worth it.

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LIVE: Acid Mothers Temple @ Deaf Institute | 09.11.18

WORDS BY PATRICK PRESTON       PHOTOS BY TY KELLEY

Trudging through the ghostly silence of the ornate Deaf Institute staircase, I sneak a glance at tonight’s downstairs bar punters – the laughter and frivolities betraying an obvious innocence of the momentous meeting of psych-rock spirits whispering above. The legendary Japanese experimental noise group Acid Mothers Temple certainly still pull a crowd well into their 23-year existence, and tonight’s stop on the ‘Electric Dream Ecstasy’ tour is no different; the venue’s main room is packed to the rafters, with all inches of the unique back-room seating area looking uniformly filled out through the aromatic, sweat-inducing haze.

 

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acid mothers temple

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Assembling into a tight stage formation – and half dressed like space warlocks – the band graciously and quietly thank their audience, noting that it’s an honour to be chosen as tonight’s entertainment over the King Crimson show taking place at Bridgewater Hall, in a decision that will not have come lightly to most here.

Some distant, spacey chords and an ominous vocal build into wailing guitar and virtuosic, scattered drumming, with the spectral Higashi Hiroshi’s twisting synth parts lending an additional air of disconcerting tumult. Ringleader Kawabata Makoto teases this with bursts of guitar noise, which calm into a monolithic drone, before once again speeding into a frantic amorphousness, with relentless percussion bubbling underneath. This acts as naught but a warmup, however, with the cape-wearing Jyonson Syu cutting through the post-applause silence with a haunting bouzouki line and a dismal vocal, summoning the epic ‘Dark Star Blues’ – before the quintet delicately shimmers into thunderous sludge rock riffing.

Played masterfully straight, a mid-point breather is punctured by a rollicking drum solo from percussionist Satoshima Nani, which powerfully wrests and skitters around the kit before melting into a sparse, airy disco beat. At this point the enigmatically-named bassist Wolf joins in with a rigidly pulsing two-note octave melody, worming its way into listeners’ skulls for what seems like an eternity, before the group breaks into the hypnotic, sun-dappled guitar line of ‘Pink Lady Lemonade’, which elicits a faint murmur of crowd recognition.

Again, the melody is carried throughout alternating periods of psych-rock blowout and relative, trembling calm, but its full return holds an ultimate sense of triumph; the looping, nestled guitar part provides a backdrop for spoken band member introductions, handled with genuine delight and humility, as well as the requisite applause, before reprising the harmonious noise alongside intricate, pin-pricking bass-lines and intensely furious drumming.

The night’s coda is summoned with a melodious synth line, which is met with instrumental matching and Syu’s languid vocals, yet anchored by galloping percussion, and stretches off into the unending night. For better or worse, the thick, overdubbed noise which has for years typified Acid Mothers Temple becomes unmasked in extraordinary live settings such as these, where the band’s sheer instrumental mastery and generous showmanship can’t help but shine through the haze.

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LIVE: Sink Ya Teeth @ The Eagle Inn | 23.10.18

WORDS BY PATRICK PRESTON       PHOTOS BY RICHARD SHASHAMANE

Even when getting lost down its maze-like industrial side streets seems all but inevitable, Salford’s The Eagle Inn prevails as a warm respite from the snappy autumn evenings. The twisty, linear corridors are packed through, with the distant hum of krautrock emanating from the evening’s cosy side-room venue – oddly enough, the Peel-championed and only relatively recently reformed Dutch post-punkers Eton Crop serve as tonight’s support, attracting more than their fair share of wizened musos.

The band’s three-strong guitars, plus bass and a drumkit, almost entirely fill out the stage, which is mirrored in the thickly-layered, reverberating chords – it’s an assault on the senses, with an eerie, sparse melodica melody and clattering percussion providing a semblance of structure in the delicate, twitchy interplay. Songs such as ‘Gay Boys on the Battlefield’ and ‘Wake Up’ marry rattling garage grooves with dense, socio-political lyrics, raising both a number of eyebrows and a fair share of spirits.

Maria Uzor and Gemma Cullingford, who make up the irrepressible Sink Ya Teeth, then take the stage, grinning at various punter mates and looking unsure with what to do with the limited space they’ve been provided. Their set is heralded when the room suddenly bursts into life, with unfolding layers of pre-recorded synth and percussion sparking a dance-ability that wasn’t there previously; the bouncy opener ‘Freak 4 the Kick’ and the icily minimal ‘If You See Me’ set the tone for the band’s wide-ranging energy – from the rigorous to the more subdued – all linked by a singular incessant groove.

Cullingford’s driving basslines act as the consistent anchor for Uzor’s flailing synth patterns and ethereal vocals, alongside the forceful rigidity of the backing track – this reaches a rhythmic apex in the single ‘Substitutes’, in which Uzor picks up a curio guitar to join in with a spiky staccato line. The pair begin to beam when proudly referring to this as their “third Manchester gig” (before hastily correcting to “Salford”) and have an air of genuine excitement to be playing most of their debut album; the crowd seem to be quite taken with their earnestness and show it with a constant sea of excitable movement.

The band plough on with squelchy synth arpeggi and grungy, industrial beats, pairing them with wry lyrical parts and a rhythmic marching. The track ‘Glass’, a self-professed nod to Giorgio Moroder, bounds effortlessly until reaching a climax of pulsating synth bass in a glorious ‘I Feel Love’ homage, before slowly scrubbing to a stripped-down pulse – the bass, synth and guitar are then reworked into a densely-layered spiral, with each component individually returning one-by-one for a thoroughly engaging climax. After gingerly thanking the crowd, the pair share a warm onstage hug, their musical and ideological chemistry clearly self-evident – and kept  in store for their no doubt countless future audiences.

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LIVE: Iceage @ Gorilla | 09.09.18

WORDS BY PATRICK PRESTON

The stuffy, drab-skied Sunday evening that backdrops this leg of Manchester Psych Fest rather lends itself to the bleaker, more tense strains of tonight’s headliners, elusive Danish art-punks Iceage. Fittingly, disaffected art students and older punk musos mill around Gorilla’s square, brick-lined room, mulling over drinks and chatting animatedly, until an eerie silence falls overhead. Billowing out onto the stage then comes the spectral Nordic figures of Copenhagen-based collective Josiah Konder, whose presumed eponymous frontman starts by teasing a soft balladry on an acoustic guitar. The band gradually push into dark, swirling noir, formed by harmonised choral singing, dynamic stop-start percussion and elaborate storytelling, while grand, sweeping piano flourishes and snaking distorted guitar add layers of gritty texture. When not steering this with a Cave-esque croon, Josiah Konder wildly conducts his band’s proceedings with his hands, lending some urgency to stretches of explosive chamber-pop, but the simplistic, back-and-forth structures become somewhat meandering after just a handful. Steady applause follows each number, but the audience remains relatively muted until the pre-headliner gap builds into feverish excitement. The crowd swells to three times its size; a small-statured girl takes a Snapchat picture of the empty stage and tags the Iceage account, seemingly excited to share the evening with her myriad of post-punk-leaning contemporaries.

Armed with the additional instrumentation that defined the band’s sound on their excellent 2018 release ‘Beyondless’, Iceage take to the stage, and after a quick few hellos, triumphantly launch into the album’s high-octane opener, ‘Hurrah’. Vocalist Elias Rønnenfelt contrasts his languid  drawl with a Libertine-esque swagger, while the band play with a loose, garage-rock feel, kept in line by the songs’ blood-pumping energy. Well-received single ‘Pain Killer’ – minus featured artist Sky Ferreira – follows, eliciting a roar of recognition from the room, but the brassy wail that makes up the song’s main instrumental thrust can’t help but feel a little thin in a live environment. The menacing crawl of ‘Under the Sun’ – which threads needling violin and an anguished vocal through a punishing staccato beatdown – and ‘Plead the Fifth’’s morose, guitar-driven march cap off a string of hits from the band’s latest record. Until the unveiling of older noise-punk stormer ‘Morals’ triggers a small moshpit, which gradually expands towards the walls before petering out. Basking in the chaos, a rhythmic guitar noise grows faster and faster, before bursting into the frantic cowpunk of track ‘The Lord’s Favourite’.

 

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Iceage last night were stunning!

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As the night goes on, ‘Beyondless’ is further repped by the skeezy Broadway stylings of ‘Showtime’, whose misery-tinged cabaret rock suitably fits the venue’s rousing, sweaty atmosphere. As well as ‘The Day the Music Dies’ noise rock stomp and the rattly, doom-laden shoegaze of the title track, with a small pool of pumping fists keeping momentum throughout. Elsewhere, the washy, melancholic soundscapes of ‘Take It All’ and ‘Catch It’ find themselves fading into aimless, flickering sax and plucked violin, riding out any grooves until they leave a formless, slow-burning ambience, and highlight the band’s capabilities for more abstract sonic depths. Snapping back into life for a final push, old-school track ‘White Rune’ breaks with a claustrophobic, choppy guitar rhythm – a welcome snap of energy that propels the set towards a fiery close, proving both the group’s versatility and onstage hunger.

Iceage setlist:

Hurrah
Pain Killer
Under the Sun
Plead the Fifth
Morals
The Lord’s Favourite
Showtime
Thieves Like Us
The Day The Music Dies
Take It All
Beyondless
White Rune
Pressure
Catch It

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Membranes

GIG REVIEW: Membranes and Friends @ O2 Ritz

Not even the warmest day of the year so far can deter the hardy, black-clad horde of mature post-punkers from descending on the Ritz for this blistering all-dayer held by legendary Mancunian punk rockers. Billed as Membranes & Friends, there’s a virtually guaranteed swathe of talent on display, going off the band’s own esoteric influences, as well as the sense of musical community fostered by frontman John Robb, cultural commentator and Louder Than War founder.

Punk’s Best and Brightest From All Across the Spectrum.

Perfectly willing to work up more of a sweat beyond that of the heat, the most intrepid gig-goers are treated to the 4.25 kick-off of upstart Norwich duo Sink Ya Teeth, who in a dual bass-and-drum-sampler setup deliver ominously throbbing beats and sparse, hypnotic disco with a sultry confidence, in a pleasingly palatable opener for the night of crashing noise to follow. Following this is the jerky post-punk of LIINES, emerging figures of the local indie and alternative scene – frontwoman Zoe McVeigh at one point excitedly reminisces of her younger nights spent in the very same venue – who burst into action with a fiery passion. The group have their fair share of followers in tonight, and they no doubt meet their expectations with relentlessly driving, robotic rhythms and disaffected, claustrophobic wails.

Next, One Sided Horse take the stage to relatively minimal pre-existing awareness, switching gears to a dark, heaving folk rock. Helmed by Evil Blizzard member Mark Whiteside, this more thoughtful side to his experimental sludge antics showcases energetic, stomping rhythms and swirling textures alongside plaintive vocal melodies and a hard-edged, gothic grit; onstage, he explains his band comprises members of indie icons Embrace, which goes a way to explain their humbly commanding onstage presence.

Next up are surreal, recently-reformed punk heroes The Cravats create an even more enigmatic scene before even playing any music, with The Shend (vocals) cutting an imposing bowler-hatted figure, as well as a man onstage whose job seems to be to sit and read the paper while eating a banana. After some brief ‘saxophone issues’, the band work a dissonant grumbling into thumping, disjointed rhythms and blood-pumping garage-punk, glowering over their enraptured audience while repeating absurdist mantras in a funhouse vocal style.

In arguably the most bizarre spectacle of the evening, 4-bass lunatics Evil Blizzard shuffle onto the stage all pig masks and blood-stained surgical garb, and are greeted by a wave of flicked up V-signs in what I can only assume is some in-joke, as the crowd seems genuinely captivated – and with good reason. Parcelling out deeply-burrowing sludge beats into a stomping drone and a deathrock jig, the intense low-end layering pushes through any ridiculousness to a crushing effect, earning the right to their maniacal onstage strutting and sardonic banter.

After hardly any time at all, The Lovely Eggs explode into life with their deliciously thick dual drums-and-guitar attack, clearly giddy at the prospect of playing (as well as having a night off – “Mum’s babysitting tonight,” guitarist and vocalist Holly Ross wryly informs the crowd). The songs’ sunny melodies, relatively simple arrangements and unrestrained psych freakouts nudge the audience into their favour, with a number singing along joyously – the reviewer included.

The Membranes.

Lastly, however, it’s the irrepressible Membranes who dole out the most severe, yet crowd-pleasing sonic punishment; world-ending noise metal riffs form a menacing swagger and glorious space-rock crescendos, matched by the otherworldly BIMM Choir, whose artistic contributions of a rich, ominous chanting help create an apocalyptic, room-filling cacophony. Robb’s demented, commanding rasp complements his wild-eyed demeanour, while keeping any shapeless noise anchored by gravelly bass-lines. It’s a fundamentally engaging performance – the choir adds a sonorous new dimension, turning the sepia-toned lilt of older track Myths and Legends into something more upbeat and accessible – and serves as a fitting capper for a night of such wide-ranging musical ingenuity.

Membranes have come a long way since immigrating from Blackpool to Manchester in the 80’s to release Crack House on the legendary record label criminal damage. What membranes present today is something rare, a matured punk rock that has aged gracefully. Something that icons like John Lyndon, Darby Crash even Henry Rollins to an extent, could not deliver. From lighting fires outside of HMV to the esoteric, metallic activism infused product they’re delivering today with the assistance of a choir.

 

Patrick Preston

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